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Plastics and its Problems

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March 24, 2023

Why in news?

Plastic recycling could be a solution to growing problems of plastics.

What are plastics?

  • Plastics are a group of materials, either synthetic or naturally occurring, that may be shaped when soft and then hardened to retain the given shape.
  • Plastics are polymers. A polymer is a substance made of many repeating units
  • Plastics can be divided into two general categories–thermoplastics and thermosets.
    • Thermoplastics are defined as polymers that can be melted and recast almost indefinitely.
    • Thermosets is a polymer that irreversibly becomes rigid when heated

plastics

What are the advantages of plastics?

  • Low production cost.
  • Could be molded easily.
  • Lightweight, translucent, transparent, and opaque.
  • Resistant to corrosion.
  • Poor conductor of heat and electricity.
  • Minimize the food wastage.

 What are the disadvantages of plastics?

  • Plastics manufacturing also involves the addition of potentially hazardous compounds like stabilizers or colorants.
  • Most plastics are non-biodegradable and  they might take a long time to decompose
  • Plastic materials clog waterways, oceans, seas, lakes etc.
  • 1 in 3 species of marine mammals have been found entangled in marine litter.
  • Eating food out of plastic containers may cause cancer.
  • Many animals eat plastic materials and die
  • Few additives such as phthalates etc. which are added in plastics to prevent its structure may cause serious hormonal imbalance in males and females.

What is recycling of plastics?

  • Plastic recycling has been described as the process of recovering scrap or waste plastics and reprocessing the material into useful products
  • The two methods of recycling of plastics are
    • Traditional Recycling - The traditional recycling method involves melting plastics and processing them into new plastic products
    • Advanced Recycling - Advanced recycling is a process through which the effect of chemicals breaks down plastic material.
      • This method consists of three other techniques. These techniques include pyrolysis, chemical recycling, and gasification

What are the reasons for low rate of plastic recycling?

  • Segregation - Unsegregated plastic waste being ended up in landfills and water systems.
  • Lack of segregation of plastic waste at a local community level.
  • Segregation of plastic at household level has remained largely unsuccessful.
  • No market - For plastics recycling for 5 types of plastics expect Polyethylene terephthalate, high-density Polyethylene (HDPE).
  • Virgin plastics - Being cheaper than recycled plastics
  • Multi-layered plastics - The plastics having multilayer  are hard for recycling
  • Lightweight flexible packaging – This industry is booming but it is non-recyclable

What are the efforts taken by India to mitigate plastics pollution?

  • Since July 1, 2022, India has banned the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of single-use plastic items with low utility and high littering potential.
  • Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021 - prohibits identified single use plastic items by 2022
  • Thickness of plastic carry bags increased from 50 to 75 microns from 2021 and to 120 microns with effect from the 2022
  • Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2022- The guidelines provide a framework to Strengthen the circular economy of plastic packaging waste
  • Promote the development of new alternatives to plastic packaging
  • Provide the  steps for moving towards sustainable plastic packaging by businesses

What is the way forward?

  • To create a viable market for plastics other than
  • To use eco-friendly products like bamboo, jute, coconut etc.. to replace plastics
  • Use of circular model economy

The circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.

Quick facts

  • Around 85% of plastic packaging worldwide ends up in landfills.
  • Plastic production set to triple globally by 2060
  • only 9% of annual plastic waste recycled

References

  1. The Hindu Business Line │Plastics
  2. The Indian Express │ Recycling Of Plastics

 

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